A Shout Out to Every Ugly Duckling Who Ever Found Her Wings Later in Life
While this is directed primarily at women, it is a much a story for men as well, or trans, or gay or bi or however we identify. This is a story about Becoming.
I got a message from a fellow Medium writer Shea McNaughton who had responded to an earlier story of mine about being in our Prime. As someone who bloomed late, who spent decades struggling with body issues, careening from one career to another in a desperate search for what the hell spoke to me, I feel in the depth of my bones for any of us who longs to fit into the skin we were given.
Who began being bullied, shamed, and sacrificed on the altar of middle and high school public opinion. Who honestly believed back then that the only folks who would ever succeed in life, already had done so in high school.
So when I threw the gauntlet down when a young man on FitnessSingles.com penned me that “he sure would have liked to have seen me in my prime” (my response is unprintable), this is what Shea wrote (presented here with her blessings, and thanks):
As a former ugly duckling myself who also bloomed much later in life, I LOVED this story. My sister, herself a former cheerleader and extremely popular in high school and college, is about to turn 63 and has lived her glory days her entire adult life. It used to annoy me, all the moaning and groaning about how she used to be the popular one, but now it makes me sad. I’ve never been able to convey to her how exciting it is to get older. Granted, she has health issues, but at our age, who doesn’t? (Even if it’s just creaky joints and thinning hair, the latter of which I consider a personal health “issue.”) But her outlook is so negative, and I’ve given up trying to show her a more positive one.
As for me, it took 50+ years to figure it out, but I’m learning to be own best cheerleader. I’m so damned happy it’s almost sickening, and yeah, I consider this to be the prime of MY life. As for us being “something back in the day?” Yeah, we’re in our “days” RIGHT NOW.
Shea’s comments struck to the beating heart of my point: that far too many of us pine for days already gone, that are impossible to recover. Worse, we romanticize those same days, forget the acne, the emotional angst we all feel as teens. Somehow that shining moment was the defining moment of our lives.
My god. As Shea says, in effect, what a waste of a life.
Not long after I starting writing for Medium, one commenter wrote, I hate being 67.
Precisely, what the hell are you going to do about it? Other than be one more day closer to 68 by tomorrow?
You and I will never be perfect. I read this today on brainpickings.com by Ursula Le Guin:
Perfection is “lean” and “taut” and “hard” — like a boy athlete of twenty, a girl gymnast of twelve. What kind of body is that for a man of fifty or a woman of any age? “Perfect”? What’s perfect? A black cat on a white cushion, a white cat on a black one . . . A soft brown woman in a flowery dress . . . There are a whole lot of ways to be perfect, and not one of them is attained through punishment. (author bolded)
Shea’s sister punishes herself for not being the popular cheerleader in her teens. At 63. That’s one hell of a life sentence.
Millions of people punish themselves for getting older, then they cascade their self-hate onto others who are already aged. That’s how terrified we are of our own mortality, our own imperfection.
Shea has fully embraced what it means to be in the day, in our prime.
As Anne Lamott writes,
“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life.”
It is uniquely insane to spend our entire lives looking back at what we once were, never will be again, and cannot ever recapture. To miss the blessed, sacred, life-affirming moments that mold us, day by day, into the swans we were always meant to be.
This isn’t just about the body. It’s about the soul. Our gifts. What we owe the world in return for the chance to live in it.
Again, to quote Lamott:
All I ever wanted was to belong, to wear that hat of belonging.
In seventh and eighth grades I still weighed about forty pounds. I was twelve years old and had been getting teased about my strange looks for most of my life. This is a difficult country to look too different in — the United States of Advertising, as Paul Krassner puts it — and if you are too skinny or too tall or dark or weird or short or frizzy or homely or poor or nearsighted, you get crucified. I did.
Lamott was burnt at the stake for being different, and it made her who she is today: funny, potent, powerful.
To me, there is a cost to being The One early in life. So like child actors who implode when their cute wears off, and so do the acting jobs, they have a terrible time moving on.
The only way is forward.
You and I can’t do it looking over our shoulders.
To Shea and every other self-described ugly duckling who found their (all inclusive, thanks) wings, this is our time.
Every day, all day.
This one’s for you: